4 ways to keep recycling costs in check

Greener savings.
green recycling money

The row of compost bins left outside City Hall in July were a ripe reminder that it’s not always easy being green. Local restaurants, required by Oakland, Calif., to compost their food scraps, were protesting a new municipal contract that raised hauling fees 120 percent.

At the other extreme, Atlanta caterer Affairs to Remember cut its monthly waste bill from $464 to $180, thanks to a recycling program that let it downsize its dumpster. “We went into this program prepared to spend a lot of money,” says managing director Patrick Cuccaro. “As it turned out, we made money on it.”

Recycling can turn out to be a net savings or a net expense, say operators who do it—65 percent of all restaurants, according to the National Restaurant Association. Some cost factors are beyond their control, such as the availability of nearby processors or the going price for a bale of cardboard. What they can control are their own operations. Here, some of their tips to avoid wasting money on waste:

1. Bins matter

“How you place your bins helps determine your success,” says Mary Carter, managing partner at Founding Farmers, with four casual-dining restaurants serving American fare around Washington, D.C. Recycling is cheaper to haul than landfill waste for the chain, and compost is about equal to trash. So to keep compost and recyclables out of costly landfill garbage, the bins are color-coded and placed in strategic spots—for example, a bin for wine bottles sits by the doorway to the dining room. By contrast, there are no trash cans in sight. Nonrecyclable trash is placed in bus tubs and emptied out back at the end of each shift.

2. Track your trash

Cuccaro hired a waste-and-recycling consultant who audited his waste, a service included in his monthly consulting fee. The results found that his operation was recycling 83 percent of its waste, enough to cut garbage collection to two days a week, saving almost $300 a month. “We learned it’s smart to measure what you do,” he says. Cuccaro was able to declare in November 2014 that he had diverted 1 million pounds of recoverable materials from landfills—prompting the city to proclaim “Affairs to Remember Caterers Day,” a boost in publicity. “We can trace hundreds of thousands in extra revenue to our green brand,” says Cuccaro.

3. Plan your packaging

Carter was able to reduce disposable packaging and overall trash. Instead of separating bulk foods into smaller bags, she puts right-sized utensils at cooks’ stations to measure out ingredients. “We don’t use millions and millions of little plastic bags,” she says.

Carter found that shopping around helps. Her recyclable takeout containers cost just a few cents more than foam. Compost bags made from cornstarch cost a dollar each but encourage composting by making it less messy.

4. Degrease your exhaust

Many restaurants recycle cooking oil from grease traps. But grease also goes up the flue through the hood. In 37 Applebee’s in Northern California, facilities manager Scott Hayman cuts it off at the stack. A compostable filter removes 98 percent of the grease from the exhaust. He now cleans his flues every 20 months instead of six, at a savings of $500 per cleaning. A bonus: Airborne grease no longer congeals on his roofs. “The maintenance costs on the roofs is nil,” he says. 

Today's top stories

1
First impressions count. And for many of your potential customers, especially millennials, those initial impressions of your operation will be formed via a glimpse at your website. So, how can you...
2
For several years, trend forecasters have been predicting that Native American would emerge as the next hot cuisine . But it’s taken a while for the supply chain and dining public to get the message...
3
Unable to find a buyer, the parent company of the Taco Cabana and Pollo Tropical quick-service chains has appointed a new CEO, fine-dining veteran Rich Stockinger, and revised its board in a renewed...
4
McDonald’s is cutting drink prices in its latest bid for bargain-hunting customers. The chain plans to offer $1 sodas and $2 McCafe specialty drinks for a limited time beginning in April. The deals...
5
A delay in mailing federal income tax refunds has put a crimp in consumers’ restaurant spending, adding to a traffic downturn from bad weather in many areas of the country, chain executives told...
6
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has called on the city to adopt a 2-cent-an-ounce tax on sugared soft drinks as a way of simultaneously discouraging consumption and raising money for education. The surcharge...
7
Last-minute shift changes would require restaurants to pay affected employees for at least four hours, whether the time was worked or not, under bills likely to be heard next week in the Oregon...
8
Starbucks is pulling the plug on another of its secondary restaurant concepts, this time the Evolution Fresh cold-pressed juice chain. The coffee giant intends to shut the two remaining Evolution...
9
One thing I’ve loved about writing this column over the past seven (!) years is that by using real reader-submitted questions, I am always learning new things, due to the complexity of running a...
10
Chipotle has finished rolling out its new Smarter Pick Up Times platform to all of its locations that offer digital ordering. Through Smarter Pick Up Times, the chain says it’s able to monitor its...